There couldn’t have been a more beautiful afternoon to leave work early and head to the countryside with one’s pup for agility class this week.
After a few minutes of playing fetch at the park, Rain and I headed to agility. Cedar and Poppy were in the pens out back with their human, so we decided to have the dogs meet each other. Rain got barky at first, but was soon super cool with them. She didn’t bark at either of them once during class.
When we headed to the arena though, my puppy sense started tingling. Sure enough, there was a little red merle Aussie puppy! Just as ginger, fuzzy, and cute as Rain’s Uncle Atticus was, once upon a time. Molly was in the process of moving the puppy, named Flute, so she wouldn’t be a distraction to our class. Casually, I let Molly know that if she couldn’t find the puppy later, hey, don’t worry about it! (And don’t look in my car!)
As it turns out, Flute was ten weeks old and Molly was just puppysitting for the day. Flute’s human is a veterinarian who had an equine shot clinic she was doing all day. Hence, she needed an able person to mind her charge for the day.
At the start of class, Molly invited us to walk a course she had set up.
I looked at Rudy the Papillon’s owner, who was the closest person to me. “How do I do that?” I asked.
Once Molly realized we had never done a course before, the group gave me pointers about what one does in walking a course. I looked for the cones with numbers on them to determine the order of obstacles, internally strategizing how I’d send Rain through it.
Did Rain do great? Of course! Did she do it perfectly the first time through? Of course not. Molly had given us a weave pole channel as an alternate to the dog walk, and we ended up needing to remind her about weave pole channels. THEN she did pretty well! Considering she is used to being given a treat after every task she performs, I was particularly proud that she went through this whole course so well the first time.
After we all made it through the course, Molly set up a square made of jumps. The others had played this game before but Rain and I had not. It took me a couple of turns to fully understand it, but during our second turn we were doing pretty well!
Then it was time for class to be over, and Molly said we’d lower the dog walk before next week so Rain and I could utilize it again. That sparked my memory—I don’t think I ever got the chance to tell Molly why I think Rain and I had the dog walk tumble in December. I explained to her that I think I said “yes!” as Rain was on the high part of the dog walk (which meant “you get a cookie”) so she jumped off to get her treat instead of continuing the task.
Molly thought it was an astute observation, and explained to the other two that when using positive reinforcement, the marker word can inadvertently become a release word. Like in the case of Rain jumping off the dog walk from five feet up!
Even though class was over, Molly and I went to the dog walk to test Rain out briefly. I made sure to not say her marker word when she was on the obstacle, and she didn’t leap off the side like she did in December! A few runs in and we were doing the dog walk faster with no problems.
There’s a saying about puppies: when they’re quiet, they’re almost certainly getting into trouble. People say the same thing about Aussies…
Flute the puppy was in one of the horse stables outside the arena, and I wanted to get a photo of her before leaving. Since there were no other dogs in the arena I let Rain stay in there unsupervised. As Molly came out of the stable, she gasped and said that she had seen a levitating dog, but it was just Rain who had gotten back on the top of the dog walk again…presumably to keep tabs on where I was and what I was doing! After a few minutes of fawning over Flute, I headed back to gather my things and discovered Rain’s head was buried in a Powell’s bag…which belongs to Cedar and Poppy’s human! Always opportunistic, Rain had smelled some cookies and helped herself while everyone was distracted.
We closed out our beautiful afternoon in the country by playing ball in the pens out back for nearly a half hour! The air was warm, the sun was starting a pinkish descent toward the western horizon, and the ground was soft but not slippery with mud. We had a great time enjoying the day. Spring is on its way, and Rain and I both are more than ready for more weather like this!